A Page out of History

Last night I stumbled across a documentary called “Bettie Page Reveals All”. It was made in 2012 and was about the life of Bettie Page. She narrated much of it and told what was going on in her life at each stage.

I imagine many reading this blog may remember the woman who was known as the pinup queen of the fifties. To be honest, I remember seeing several of her bikini photos in college, but never knew anything about her.

The photos I remember of her was of the girl next door type that all young men would like to meet. So, having a “bare” recollection of Bettie Page, I started the documentary.

I was soon hooked and watched all hour and forty-seven minutes of it. What was as interesting to me as her story was seeing and remembering the culture and times of the fifties. While she was a centerfold in 1955 for Playboy, I didn’t know what a Playboy was then, being only 13 at that time.

1955 was about the time my mom and I moved to Odessa, Texas. The previous year, my dad had died and left my mom with me and several farm debts in Oklahoma. I remember that television in fifties covered the Kefauver hearings. It was presented as a world crisis and everyone had to be watchful of their neighbors to see if they were communist sympathizers or, even worse, out and out communists.

Of course living on a farm in Oklahoma, we were nowhere near anyone that the news was talking about. Still with the stress of the farm debts and a young boy to raise on a teacher’s salary, my mom had a nervous breakdown. I remember her calling my Uncle Horace and telling him she was convinced the Russians were coming.

She was scared and I was scared because she was scared. I guess the Kefauver hearings had left an indelible mark in her mind that the stress awoke.

If you watch the movie, you will see why these memories came flooding into my mind. The Kefauver hearings played a roll in her life.

My mom had a brother living in a Oklahoma city, and my dad’s brothers contacted my mom’s brother to see if he could get her medical help. The 50s were a terrible time to have mental health problems.

Mom was placed in some sort of a sanitarium in Oklahoma City that used electric shock therapy to treat patients. No one knew any better and no one argued with the doctors who were considered to be the final authorities on treating such cases.

I stayed with my grandmother in Oklahoma City waiting for my mom to recover. I was 12 at the time and remember being able to walk to the movies on Saturday and watch matinees all day. It must have been summer time because I wasn’t missing school.

I also remember taking the bus to downtown Oklahoma City and shopping. WOW. Parents or grandparents would not allow that to happen today.

The Mickey Mouse Club was my favorite afternoon TV program and Annette Funicello was my favorite Mouseketeer. My mom survived the shock treatments and arrangements were made for us to move to Odessa, Texas and live with my Aunt Doris (mom’s sister) and Uncle Ellsworth.

I was moving from a school that about 100 students in all 12 grades to a junior high school with 300 students in three grades. My mom got a teaching job in Penwell, Texas the first year. The next year she got a job teaching the third grade in San Jacinto Elementary in Odessa and we moved to an apartment across from her school. It was less than a block away from Aunt Doris and Uncle Ellsworth. I guess they could still keep an eye on mom and make sure she was ok.

Looking back on it now, I really don’t know how my mom did it, but she did. All of this was happening at the same time Bettie Page was at the height of her pinup career. The politics talked about in the movie and the sexual repressions of the fifties were discussed. No one talked about sex, except in the shadows, that I can remember.

I have to admit that I was a very naive boy during my Odessa school years. My only outlet was basketball and table tennis and any free time was spent on the basketball court or at a friend’s house playing ping pong.

I never dated or had girlfriends. I had several girls flirt with me, but was too innocent to know what I was missing. If I had only had a Bettie Page living next door.

Many years later I saw some photos of Bettie Page and people were searching for her. Her popularity had risen like a rocket and then she just disappeared. How could a sex symbol just disappear? I remember the search, but never heard anymore about her.

I still think she was one of the most beautiful women I ever saw and until I watched the movie, never knew she had posed completely nude. I enjoyed the movie. It can be found by searching KODI movies for Bettie Page.

I realize that this post had nothing to do with Panama, but sometimes my daughter reads my blog and I doubt that she knows anything of my time in Odessa. I remember living on the farm and listening to my dad tell stories to friends of his adventures in high school playing football and running track.

It seems we have lost that culture of passing on our past through stories to our children. Maybe this post will serve as a catalyst for some readers to take a little time and share some of their past with grandchildren. Of course today, grandchildren have their own lives and it doesn’t provide time for stories telling.

Well, you can always write a blog and hope that they might accidentally read it and ask questions to learn more.

10 thoughts on “A Page out of History

  1. I think that often times we get too focused on providing information to the masses that we forget to stop and reflect on our own lives before and after Panama. I’ve moved away a little from being an “information provider” and surprisingly I’ve found that people are still gleaning material just from my stories.

    Reflection is good Don Ray and I enjoyed your story very much. Your mom must have been an amazing woman.

  2. Though you are still my junior, Don Ray, I too remember some of my first television memories, one of which was the 1952 presidential campaign where Estes Kefauver, Democratic senator from Tennessee wore a coonskin cap. I thought it was in honor of Davy Crockett, but now reading Wikipedia, I learn that he was miming his defeat of a Democratic Party Boss in Memphis. I was eight years old and was immediately hooked on politics as a life-long interest. I even minored in political science in college, but never had any desire to run for office.

  3. Not in my blog, but It was just within the past couple months or so that I started a doc file named “Memories” that I hope my grandkids/great-grandkids/ and further might enjoy reading some day. Things like 3 lbs for a dollar hamburger when I was a newlywed. Smith Bros cough drops that didn’t qualify as candy so we could eat them during class. watching the Saturday morning cartoon lineup while lying on the floor next to a gas stove. cigarettes selling for 25 cents a pack at my dad’s gas station.
    I add to the list as memories permit.

  4. Thanks for sharing that Don. Tough road…..
    My husband Bill started writing the childhood stories he could remember. He finally had it published here. He calls the book “Pants up to the Armpits” ( stories of growing old….) Something about growing old that makes men pull those pants higher and higher eh? ( he stole that from Homer Simpson) Sure makes us appreciate what we have,looking back at the road we traveled to get here.

  5. Thanks for the heads up on the Bettie Page film. I saw it today. Quite revealing (pun intended). I used to wonder what had happened to her. Very interesting life.

  6. Don Ray – thanks for sharing your memories of a very painful time. Agree wholeheartedly that we have lost the culture of sharing memories, and it seems that even just talking with our parents, our children, our grandchildren is a thing of the past. Recently my husband celebrated a significant birthday and his daughter asked him if he would use a book / journal called “Dad, Share Your Life with Me”. A calendar style journal, each day a question is asked and he is meant to share the memories the question evokes. While I think sitting down, asking and getting the answers to these questions face to face would be more meaningful, it is not possible with his daughter’s busy busy life in another country. This journal will no doubt surprise her, sadden her, fill her joy. Then it struck me that there will be another lasting legacy – these will be his words, written by his hand. Do you remember what your mom’s handwriting looked like? My mom’s hand was beautiful and I keep the last letter she wrote to me before she passed close by – shaky but undoubtedly mom’s – and memories flood. I hope this journal will do the same.

  7. Don i did not know you were from Okla ,my husband and i came here from Okla 8 years we lived in Moore .

  8. Hi Emma. Yes I lived in Oklahoma my first 12 years prior to moving to Texas. I was born in Muskogee, so can officially be called an Okie from Muskogee. I grew up in Douglas, Oklahoma. I get back as often as I can. Great place. Great People, but the weather is better in Panama.

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